By Jan Creaser
In a step aimed towards increasing international participation at the University of Calgary, President Terry White signed Memorandum of Understanding agreements with Saudi Arabia June 6. Saudi Arabian Minister of Higher Education Khalid M. Al-Angary and four rectors from Saudi universities participated.
“This signing signifies the beginning of a long-lasting and growing friendship,” said Associate Vice-president International Duffy Van Balkam as he opened the ceremony.
The agreements are an expression of interest to pursue future exchange partnerships between signing universities. Agreements were also signed between Saudi Arabia and the universities of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and with the Northern and Southern Alberta Institutes of Technology. The Saudi delegation will also tour universities in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa this month, exploring programs of interest as they did in Western Canada.
“This is simply us getting to know them and them getting to know us,” said White. “They’ll decide what they want to do and in what areas they would like to do things.”
According to White, the Saudis will invite certain universities to Saudi Arabia later this year to finalize details. U of C Director of International Relations Merlin Brinkerhoff said that though the Saudis approached the Canadian universities, the U of C would most likely take an active approach in negotiations.
“This is a real opportunity for us so we want to be both reactive and proactive,” he said.
Currently, there are 10 Saudi students in the U of C’s Faculty of Medicine, and these agreements will open up areas for exchange students to study in Petroleum Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Computer and Software Engineering, Environmental Sciences, and Nursing. With the possibility of more Saudi students at the U of C, White discussed the reciprocal nature of the agreements.
“There will be opportunities both ways,” said White. “Increasingly, research takes on a very international aspect, and we can learn from them through their oil and gas experiences just as they can learn from us.”
Faculty exchanges are also possible.
The benefits of increasing the number of international students on campus was an important aspect of these agreements. According to the U of C, 72 per cent of students on campus are from Calgary. Less than four per cent come from abroad.
“We think it’s important as we prepare students for the 21st Century and the global economy that they have an international experience,” said White. “Part of that is getting students out on international exchanges, but by having international students on campus we can provide that experience as well.”
White added Saudi students could provide a realm of experiences for U of C students outside the programs of focus in these agreements. The Arabic language, politics and economics of Saudi Arabia were all areas White felt could be explored simply by having the foreign students on campus as a resource.
The agreements would not see any displacement of Canadian students at the U of C because international students pay almost the full cost of their education. This means the same amount of funding and spaces will still be available for Canadian students despite a possible increased presence of foreign students. Most Saudi students who study abroad are scholarship students funded by the Saudi government.
White was optimistic about the U of C’s future partnership with Saudi Arabia.
“I know the Minister [of Higher Education for Saudi Arabia] and his colleagues have been impressed by what they’ve seen at the U of C and the city,” he said.